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Friday 16 October 2020

Weekend Reading

Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week.

I especially try to not post Corona related articles as that is all one gets to read in all traditional media.

If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate.

It was luck!!
Today Amazon is a powerhouse that sells everything from e-books to diapers, so it’s easy to think its rise was inevitable. But Amazon almost didn’t make it. During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, the company posted larger and larger losses, financed by investor funds that came pouring in. But the mood of the market turned abruptly in 2000, catching many companies off guard.

So how did Amazon survive the bust? History doesn’t necessarily point to having the best idea or the savviest management. To a large extent, Amazon got lucky by raising a ton of money right before the market crashed, giving the company the cushion it needed to ride out the turmoil of the early 2000s. It’s a good reminder that the fate of high-flying, money-losing startups like Uber or Snap may depend as much on luck as on the skill of their CEOs.

If Bezos and his team had waited a few weeks longer to raise those extra funds, people today would lump Amazon in with other dot-com-era failures like Webvan, Kozmo, and Pets.com — big-spending companies with unworkable business models that collapsed under their own weight.

Now Robots are monitoring crops for a better yield
Google's parent company, Alphabet, has unveiled prototype robots that can inspect individual plants in a field, to help farmers improve crop yields.

The robot buggies roll through fields on upright pillars, so they can coast over plants without disturbing them.

The goal is to collect huge amounts of data about how crops grow.

While farmers may have information about the soil content or the weather, the buggy robot was designed to see how plants were "actually growing and responding to their environment", the company said.

"Over the past few years, the plant buggy has trundled through strawberry fields in California and soybean fields in Illinois, gathering high quality images of each plant and counting and classifying every berry and every bean," it said.

And all that data is plugged into a machine-learning system to try to spot patterns and insights useful to farmers.

Checking for bugs, making sure crops were picked and planted at the right time and even picking weeds or moving fences were possibilities, he said.

Network effects may not lead to a monopoly

Lots of companies that might at the time seemed to have an advantage of "network effects" have faltered: for example, eBay looked like the network Goliath back in 2001, but it was soon overtaken by Amazon. They write:

"The flaw in that reasoning is that people can use multiple online communications platforms, what economists call `multihoming.' A few people in a social network try a new platform. If enough do so and like it, then eventually all network members could use it and even drop their initial platform. This process has happened repeatedly. AOL, MSN Messenger, Friendster, MySpace, and Orkut all rose to great heights and then rapidly declined, while Facebook, Snap, WhatsApp, Line, and others quickly rose. ...

Firms that at their inception had no data whatsoever sometimes displaced the leaders. When Facebook launched its social network in India in 2006 in competition with Orkut, it had no data on Indian users since it didn’t have any Indian users. That same year Orkut was the most popular social network in India, with millions of users and detailed data on them. Four years later, Facebook was the leading social network in India. Spotify provides a similar counterexample. When Spotify entered the United States in 2011, Apple had more than 50 million iTunes users and was selling downloaded music at a rate of one billion songs every four months. It had data on all those people and what they downloaded. Spotify had no users and no data when it started. Yet it has been able to grow to become the leading source of digital music in the world. In all these and many other cases the entrants provided a compelling product, got users, obtained data on those users, and grew.

The history of the Bombay Stock Exchange
A group of around twenty-two who began trading under a banyan tree opposite the Bombay Town Hall contributing a rupee each to assemble themselves into an institution that came to be known as the Native Share and Stockbrokers Association. The word ‘Native’ in the initial title was a sign of exclusiveness and pride. On 9 July 1875, the entrance fee for new members was fixed as Re. 1 and there were 318 members added to this list. And Bombay Stock Exchange earned the notable distinction of becoming the first stock exchange in Asia.

There was a need for an Index, as a means to measure the overall performance of the exchange. So, a BSE Sensitive Index was started in 1986. It was first published on 2 January 1986, as a “Market Captialisation-Weighted” Index of 30 component stocks representing a sample of large, well-established and financially sound companies. It was the country’s first Equity Index (Base Year 1978-79 =100). But, this Sensitive Index will have to wait till 1989, for the word we use so often. It’s when Deepak Mohoni will coin the word: Sensex.

Forbes & Co is the oldest company that is still trading. It was started as a Scottish agency and mercantile business in 1797. And, now is owned by Shapoorji Pallonji Group.

Time is the true price you pay
Time was the only significant scarcity in a world of free minds and imaginations.

Amazon was important because it was a “life-span extender.” It radically reduced the search and fetch times of buying books and other goods. Now, with far more competition, it is making similar gains in the provision of services, such as music and video.

In touting Amazon, I was near to defining time-prices

The time-price of anything is the hours it takes to earn the money to buy that thing. Time-prices are the only true prices.

Disclaimer: Abhishek Basumallick is the Head of the equity advisory www.intelsense.in for long term wealth creation and a pure quant focused newsletter at www.quantamental.in. The blog posts should not be construed as investment advice. Please do your own due diligence before investing.

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